When you tell other people’s stories, you need to be aware that there’s only so much you should be allowed to say. Even if the people I wrote about would never read the book, or would be angry if they did, I wanted them to know that I tried to acknowledge what I did and why people are the way they are. When I wrote about each of my parents, I cried during the process. I’m not a big crier, and I don’t say that as a badge of honor. In trying to explain why my parents might have done or said certain things, I reflected on what they went through, and what their parents did to them.
In what way is the book you wrote different from the book you set out to write?
If I had gotten a book deal much sooner, I would have been proud of that book but it wouldn’t have been the same. I can be impatient. I needed to live a little bit longer. I think you can write about your life at 24, 25, and still have something to say. But I’m 34 now. I’ve experienced a lot more. I’ve made peace with a lot of things I hadn’t when I first pursued writing this. That book would have been funny, but I think it would have used humor even more as a bludgeon. My head was a bit hotter. I’m not malicious, but sometimes I can cut deep and come across as harsh because of how I grew up.
When I write about not having a boyfriend — you can always blame other people, but I had to look in the mirror and say: “You were attracting unattainable people because you yourself were unattainable. Michael, you’re part of the problem yourself.” I wouldn’t have known that or owned it as much four or five years ago. I can sit around and criticize and psychoanalyze people all day, so I should be able to turn around and do that to myself.
Who is a creative person (not a writer) who has influenced you and your work?
Beyoncé. I love her for many reasons, particularly being country and black and from Houston. So often, people are told to essentially dilute who they are to attract the masses. Don’t sound too black; don’t be too gay. In order to have a certain type of success, you’re told you have to appease and pacify the audience.
She’s a fundamentally country black girl, and even if people didn’t realize it over her career, she was bringing them into her world. She made the masses come to her, not the other way around. People have directly or indirectly let me know that sounding too black, or this and that, made me niche. People love to throw that word around. But if the most famous pop star in the world, who went to the same middle school as me and dances the way the girls I always knew danced, can have people gravitate to her, that inspires me.